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The Schemes of Nicol Bolas

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We were gods once, Beleren. Did you know that?

Nicol Bolas would know. As one of the oldest planeswalkers in the multiverse, Bolas felt the effects of the Mending more keenly than most. This fateful line, published ten years ago (almost exactly!) in Agents of Artifice, set the stage for the next decade of Magic storytelling. The shadows of these ancient god-like planeswalkers have loomed large over the story, and none more so that Bolas himself. His schemes have twisted their way through set after set, but with War of the Spark, they might finally be coming to an end.

Poor, deluded fool.

Magic 2013 Key Art by Brad Rigney

The god-like Bolas was only brought low by his own champion, Tetsuo Umezawa, preying on the elder dragon’s hubris. His triumphant return in Time Spiral, represented in The Eldest Reborn was abbreviated by the knowledge of an impending catastrophe for the Multiverse. Dominaria, once the Nexus of the Multiverse, was riddled with time rifts that threatened all of existence. Nicol Bolas, the Arisen emerged onto the shores of his kingdom of Madara, where he once ruled as god-emperor, and began to scheme for a way around the inevitable.

Please note that while I’m linking or referencing many older works here, anything more recent than Magic Origins is easily found on the Magic Story page.

Preparing A Place

The elder dragon’s first act was clemency to the irritants who were responsible for his freedom, outside of Teferi, Temporal Archmage who was cut to pieces (he got better). Jhoira of the Ghitu, Radha, Heir to Keld, and Venser, Shaper Savant’s group were left mostly alive, and Bolas would disappear to points unknown.

While away, he would visit his revenge on the Myojin of Night's Reach, who transplanted the Umezawa clan from Kamigawa to Dominaria. He would also visit Alara, cowing the great Malfegor on the shard of Grixis and preparing it as his hideout.

“The Multiverse is cracked, but a great mending is ready to begin. Your efforts helped bring this about, but you have not yet achieved it. From here, the fissures will spread and the Multiverse will crumble, or the fissures will be sealed and the Multiverse will adjust to their absence. Either way, nothing will be the same. Those who wield magic will find its very nature altered. Those who wield the transcendent power of the Multiverse will be forced to surrender it back to its source. Dominaria may yet be destroyed and with it countless other planes,” he said. “But I have prepared a suitable place for myself in that eventuality.”

-Future Sight, Chapter 20

The God-Pharaoh’s Gift

The first event we know about for sure was Bolas’ arrival on Amonkhet in The Hour of Revelation. While his power was fading quickly, he believed he had just enough time to do what he needed to prepare his contingency. He slaughtered the adult population and twisted the eight gods on Amonkhet to his purposes. The children of Amonkhet would grow up knowing nothing but that their god-pharaoh commanded them to fight and die for an honored place in the afterlife. In truth the mummies of their champions were being transformed into any army of terrifying Eternals. Bolas left behind a prophecy for his return and departed, allowing his army to build unnoticed as the decades passed.

Blue and glowy definitely bodes well.

God-Pharaoh's Gift by Titus Lunter

The Infinite Consortium

As Bolas’s power waned and mortality encroached, Bolas disappeared into the shadows. He began to recruit the new breed of planeswalkers, those who had never known godhood, to his service. While we may never know the full extent of his machinations during the decades he lurked behind the scenes, we know he established the Infinite Consortium. Using his planeswalkers minions, he created an interplanar network that expanded his influence across Ravnica, Kamigawa, Kephalai, and likely many more planes. The many cells of the Infinite Consortium kept its true scope and leadership secret, but that compartmentalization would be the first flaw in Bolas’s plan.

The Seeker’s Fall

To resist the force of the multiverse-wide Mending altering his spark, he'll need the equivalent of the total potential of an entire world, harvested all at once.

-Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker

The lynchpin of the elder dragon’s plan was the restoration of his lost power. He seeded his influence across the shards of Alara, fractured sub-planes on a collision course for reunification. On one such plane, Esper, he established the Seekers of Carmot, an organization that claimed to know the secrets of the creation of the magical metal, Etherium. In The Seeker’s Fall, a young prodigy, Tezzeret the Seeker, worked his way up to the seekers but found himself boxed out of the true secrets of the organization. So he decided to steal them, and in the process discovered that their promises were a lie. Wounded and hunted by his own people, his planeswalker spark ignited, carrying him to the neighboring shard of Grixis. Tezzeret would prove to be Bolas’s most useful - and most rebellious - pawn.

Given charge of the Ravnica cell of the Infinite Consortium, Tezzeret would eventually murder everyone who knew the organization’s true allegiance, seizing the reigns for himself.

The Fourth Pact

The aging planeswalker Liliana Vess turned to Bolas in her desperation in Liliana’s Origin: The Fourth Pact. She had spent decades attempting to restore her lost youth and power, but was stymied at every turn. Bolas, plotting to use the necromancer for his own purposes, brokered four demonic pacts that restored Liliana’s youth and power. But Liliana never stopped to consider why Bolas would negotiate on her behalf, nor did she read the fine print of her deals. Whether through the demons or directly after their deaths, Bolas owned Liliana.

Agents of Artifice

Eventually, Liliana’s demonic deals began to come due. In Agents of Artifice, believing she had no other option, she turned to Nicol Bolas for aid. She presented him with a plan to regain control of the Infinite Consortium in exchange for freedom from her demons. Bolas agreed. Liliana began to ingratiate herself with Tezzeret, becoming one of his handful of planeswalker contractors taking odd jobs for the Consortium, and slowly earning his trust. When Jace Beleren breaks free of the Infinite Consortium Liliana sees her opportunity to strike at Tezzeret.

But when Bolas “spoke” again, he sounded wistful rather than angry. We were gods once, Beleren. Did you know that?

I—what?

No, I suppose you wouldn’t. Not at your age. The dragon heaved what Jace could only call a mental sigh. The Spark burned so much brighter then. We willed our desires upon the worlds, and the

worlds obeyed. And then, the catastrophe on Dominaria and we …

We are less, Beleren. Less than we were… The dragon’s mind threatened to burn Jace’s soul with its sudden heat. And less than we will be!

-Agents of Artifice, Chapter 16

By manipulating the young planeswalker into continued conflict with Tezzeret, Jace emerges victorious. But rather than hand over the Consortium like she planned, Jace leaves Tezzeret for dead on Kamigawa and abandons the duplicitous Liliana. Bolas recovers his former minion’s body and restores him to life. While the Consortium may have been gone, he had regained his most useful pawn in the process.

The Dragon Scroll

Bolas set many plans into motion over the years, and the mysterious dragon scroll was one of his most oblique plans. The scroll, which was equal parts map and spellbook, would lead planeswalkers to the Eye of Ugin. In Fuel for the Fire, Chandra Nalaar takes the bait, only for the scroll to be recovered by Jace and the Infinite Consortium. The secrets of the scroll, however, would eventually bring both planeswalkers on a collision course for Zendikar.

The Conflux

As the shards of Alara continued to re-align themselves, Bolas’s agents were there to take advantage of the chaos. On Grixis, the Malfegor began planning for war. On Naya, the Nacatl revolutionary Marisi sowed discord between the civilized Cloud Nacatl and the Wild Nacatl of the jungles. On Bant, the Skyward Eye spread false prophecies of the coming war. As the Conflux approached, each shard was primed for a war whose magics would feed the mana storm at the heart of the reunited plane.

Shortly before the Conflux, when the five shards would reunite as one, Ajani Goldmane’s brother was murdered by a minion of the elder dragon. The newly emerged planeswalker would track the killer’s trail, only to find too late that everything had proceeded according to Bolas’s plan. At the Maelstrom Nexus, Ajani found Nicol Bolas already having consumed a plane’s worth of mana.

Left with nothing to lose, Ajani used a sliver of power Bolas had neglected to summon a soul avatar of the elder dragon, driving him away. Ajani saved the plane, but Bolas already got what he wanted: the power to enact his endgame. And a new pawn in the form of Sarkhan Vol, a dragon-idolizing planeswalker who failed to recognize the evil master he had indentured himself to.

Ajani’s victory was by the slimmest of margins.

Ajani's Last Stand by Slawomir Maniak

Enter the Eldrazi

The seed sown with the dragon scroll finally bears fruit when Chandra journeys to Zendikar in Journey to the Eye. Jace follows suit in Awakenings, and Sarkhan, having been positioned there by Bolas, creates the perfect scenario for the release of the Eldrazi. The three planeswalkers and Chandra’s use for ghostfire unlocks the Eldrazi prison in Enter the Eldrazi. Bolas’s true vision for such an act remains to be seen, but the implication was that he was looking to see what would happen when a group of planeswalkers banded together. And his actions here may have fulfilled that desire.

Unknown Goals on Mirrodin and Skalla

Nicol Bolas would also intervene on Mirrodin, sending his restored minion Tezzeret to observe the New Phyrexians in Dark Discoveries. For what purpose is not clear, and ultimately Tezzeret was run off after making his own bid for power on the plane. It’s also not clear why Bolas destroyed Vivien Reid’s home plane of Skalla. Both planes were technologically advanced, but what, exactly, he desired from them remains a mystery.

The Gatewatch is Born

Two years after influencing Jace and Chandra to meet at the Eye of Ugin, Gideon Jura gathers planeswalker allies to his side to defeat the Eldrazi menace. Along with Nissa Revane, the four planeswalkers found the Gatewatch. And proceed to play directly into Bolas’s claws, as Jace, the Living Guildpact’s prolonged absences from the plane began to foment unrest.

The Planar Bridge

On Kaladesh, the Gatewatch, along with new member Liliana Vess, would come face to face with an old foe: Tezzeret. They were led there by Dovin Baan, a Consulate bureaucrat who had intended for them to help him stop the renegade faction from interfering with the Inventors' Fair. When Tezzeret launched a coup to seize the Planar Bridge, the Gatewatch helped lead a revolution to overthrow the artificer and destroy the bridge. In the process, Tezzeret lets slip that Bolas has plans for the plane of Amonkhet.

Ajani would swear an oath to join them as well. But what the Gatewatch didn’t realize is that Tezzeret’s goal was never power over the plane, but the gateway between worlds. Unfortunately, the bridge only worked with inorganic matter, but that served Bolas’s schemes just fine.

The Eternal Horde

With his plans so close to completion, Bolas decided to have a little fun on Amonkhet. He returned to fulfill the prophecies, but not quite in the way everyone on Amonkhet expected. As the Eternals were unleashed on the populace, the Gatewatch attempted to confront the elder dragon directly, despite Ajani’s warning against it. They quickly found they were no match for the ancient planeswalker and were forced to retreat. Bolas’s undead horde and twisted gods slaughtered everyone in the city, save for those that the one surviving god, [Hazoret the Fervent], could rescue.

Awesome plan, guys!

Archenemy Nicol Bolas Box Art by Raymond Swanland

The Immortal Sun

Bolas hired Vraska, Relic Seeker to reclaim an artifact known as The Immortal Sun from Ixalan, a device designed by Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and Azor, the Lawbringer to trap the elder dragon. Vraska succeeded, and in exchange she was given control of the Golgari Swarm, a guild of Ravnica. But what Bolas doesn’t know is that Vraka’s memories were altered by Jace Beleren, with whom she had a checkered past. Amnesiac from his last battle with Bolas, Vraska took him in when he appeared on Ixalan. The two grew close, and as Jace’s memories returned, they hatched a plan to fool the elder dragon… but at the price of allowing Bolas to claim The Immortal Sun. Vraska reports in and the Planar Bridge spirits the device away.

The Final Debt

Liliana travelled with Gideon and their new allies, the crew of the Weatherlight, to defeat her fourth and final demon, in what they believed would free her to finally fight by their sides against Bolas. Unfortunately, it only led her to Bolas’s direct control, and Liliana defected to Bolas under the threat of instant death.

The Ravnican Endgame

Bolas’s pieces are in place, and while what he will do might seem obvious, his final goal is not. He has the Planar Bridge, a device that can bridge planes and transport inorganic matter. He has an army of Eternals, covered with the metallic Lazotep. He has The Immortal Sun, which prevents the escape from the plane on which it’s active. He has Liliana Vess, a Necromancer of unparalleled skill and power.

And he has five guilds of Ravnica in his pocket. Through Vraska, Golgari Queen he has the Golgari. Dovin, Grand Arbiter, having tracked down Tezzeret’s true master, now controls the Azorius. The ghost assassin Kaya, Orzhov Usurper has destroyed the Obzedat and taken control of the Orzhov. Ral, Izzet Viceroy owes Bolas some unknown debt. And Domri, Chaos Bringer? Well, it probably didn’t take much prompting to get the Gruul on the side of anyone who is going to smash the city.

As Bolas’s Endgame looms in War of the Spark, you can bet that whatever his ultimate goal is, it’s not going to bode well for the rest of the Multiverse.